A Canuck one-ups former president

By Nick Craddock

AUSTIN — At 3:42 Central Time (4:42 Eastern Time), there was a bird flying back and forth between gates 20 and 25 at Austin-Bergstrom International Airport in the Lonestar State. Species undetermined. I’m awaiting my samples to come back from the laboratory soon.

That lead paragraph has nothing to do with the rest of the column, but I thought it was necessary to share because seeing such an unusual sight mimics much of the rest of the weekend in Houston, the host city for this year’s 2011 Final Four.

Dennis Rodman and his bedazzled jacket (an understatement for him) made an appearance at Houston’s Reliant Stadium. So, too, did Sir Charles Barkley, doing the opposite of a “turrible” job doing game analysis for CBS.

UK’s favorite celebrities were well-represented also. Patrick Patterson sported jorts, Ashley Judd immersed herself in the UK student section and my fellow Canadian Drake sat with John Calipari’s family wearing UK blue and a watch that featured so many diamonds, it had less to do with telling the time and more to do with proving he had bling-bling (oh, you fancy, huh?).

The biggest stir was created by a president. And it wasn’t UK president Lee Todd, who stayed to watch Monday’s national championship game as part of his early retirement plan.

A crowd of people gathered at halftime at Reliant Stadium during the first national semifinal between Butler and Virginia Commonwealth for a photo opportunity with George H. W. Bush, the 41st president of the U.S.

Media members shook his hand, including CBS’ Jim Nantz. Butler Bulldog cheerleaders gathered around the elder Bush. Rodman took time out from being Dennis Rodman to shake his hand.

Not surprisingly, the crowd (a Texan crowd, nonetheless) adored the former president and his wife, Barbara.

Sure, no crowd greeted me upon arriving in Houston or at the stadium. I had no photo requests like the former president did. But I did have a better seat. Boo-yah. Sorry to brag, Mr. President.

In fact, I felt somewhat guilty for having a better seat — one row in front of the president, who was getting blocked out by the Butler bench players, who kept standing and blocking his vision.

Not only was I a foreigner at his nation’s amateur championship for basketball, but I was out-Texas-ing Bush on his home turf.

Doing it bigger in Texas than this Texan done doing it. Yee-Haw! (I’d fire a revolver in the air, if the airport allowed such carry-on items).

The weirdest part of being so close to these celebrities, is that I’m a no-name Canadian. I’ve never been a leader of my country and therefore, have no business sitting in such close proximity to a former president.

Then it hit me. As far as 99 percent in this country are concerned, I could be Stephen Harper, the current prime minister of Canada. No one knows that Canada has a prime minister, let alone what he looks like (really, I don’t blame you … much).

Actually, I’m sure if I train this bird, which has snacked on popcorn and grown increasingly frustrated with the concept of the window in the time I’ve written this column, to say “Stephen Harper,” it could get some prime-time seating at sporting events in the U.S.